Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Near drowning shows need for precautions for all

I’m a strong swimmer. My husband is a careful captain. We have a plethora of life jackets on board our pontoon. Unfortunately, they do no good when they are on the boat, and you are in the water. I am writing to implore all boaters to keep your life jackets or vests on — no matter how well you swim!

On Thursday, Sept. 7, the weather was sunny, warm and beautiful at 2 p.m. My husband Bill and I decided to go for a short ride, and swim for one of the last times of the summer. We took out our pontoon from the Champlain Bridge Marina and anchored just north of the Champlain Bridge, south of the Marina. At 3 p.m. the weather began to change, and we decided to go home. On my last swim around the boat, I saw the anchor slip from the bow as the current got stronger and the winds were picking up. Grabbing the end of the rope before it submerged with the anchor, I yelled to my husband to bring the boat over to me while treading water. No biggie, I thought. 

Unfortunately, in a series of mishaps, he tried to throw me the life ring attached to the boat, which didn’t reach me. The boat began taking off northward, in the current, as he tried to swim southward towards me, with another life ring. It was too late. I was out of reach, and so was the boat. He yelled for me to drop the anchor and swim to shore as he tried to swim back and reach the boat. About a thousand feet away from shore, I fought the current, keeping my eye on him until he and his white life ring disappeared from my view. I was frantic, thinking the worst. After making it to shore, yelling for help, two neighbors heard me. 

After making it to shore, yelling for help, two neighbors heard me. Cathie Talbert called 911 and Sara McClallen jumped on her skidoo to search for Bill. Cathie — a renter who had just moved in a week before — gave me a towel and took me to the Marina in her car. I yelled for Bryan Giroux, the owner, who immediately ran with Ben Teriele, and me following, to his rescue boat, before the emergency crew arrived. We found the pontoon north of the marina, but no Bill. 

The emergency crew arrived within seconds. None of us could see him, so we took off in different directions searching where the current might take him? Ben took our boat back to the marina, as Bryan assured me Bill would be fine. Bryan searched from Vermont to New York, to the bridge and back, but we couldn’t find Bill. 

Finally, we saw the emergency boat’s red-light flashing. Driving towards them, someone gave us the thumbs up — and we heard, they found him! He was still trying to swim to shore, exhausted. The sky was darkening, and it began to rain while we were on water. It wasn’t until we were all safely on shore, on the dock, and near our truck that the heavens opened, and a deluge of rain poured down so hard you couldn’t see three feet in front of you. I could only think, if he were in the water at this time, they might not have found him …

But we did have angels on both sides, and the emergency crew did find him! While swimming to shore, I was praying for a boat to find Bill, but at the time, no boats were anywhere in sight — it was after Labor Day. The boats that did come later, rescued him, and saved our pontoon. 

How do you thank people who save you? This letter seems such a small gesture, but please know our hearts are overflowing with gratitude for everyone involved. And more than any words of thanks can say, please know that you can prevent what happened to us, so no one else will be inconvenienced. Our Coast Guard-approved life vests just arrived, and we will always wear them from now on. We have a marine whistle in the house that needs to be on our body, and I will purchase more, and keep them on us, whenever in the water! Bill could not be seen from Sara’s skidoo, because the waters of Lake Champlain can turn on a dime, into ocean waves! Please be prepared for any situation that could occur in and on water! Great swimmers are no match for Mother Nature! I’m a trauma specialist who didn’t have to be traumatized by ignorance. I’m lucky, but my body is still shaking inside, two weeks later. I hope I never have to treat someone for the same mistake. I could have dropped the anchor and swam easily to the boat in that instant. Bill and I are living and still learning together in our 7th decade of life.

I want to take this time to publicly thank my neighbor Paul Miller, EMT who met me at the dock with a hug, saying, “Now it’s another story you can tell your grandkids!” And Bryan, and Ben, who didn’t think twice before running to our rescue; Bryan kindly telling me later, “It happens to us all!” And Cathie and Sara, for jumping quickly into rescue mode to help a wet, stranded stranger! And the Addison Fire Department and Town Line First Response Team for saving my husband! Words do no justice to show our heartfelt gratitude. Tears still come to my eyes thinking about all your awesome support in our time of need. 

Please, everyone who can, donate to these emergency responders of our community who are always available, 24/7, when most of us are busy in our lives, not realizing how many other lives are being saved, every day and every night! And thank you dear readers for listening, caring and donating.

Judith Hancox

Bridport

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